The day before taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test last school year, Rachel Onken received some disappointing news.
A doctor called and told her she had torn her anterior cruciate ligament from participating in sports.
“I knew basically my life was just going to be academics for another year,” she said.
Recently, though, Onken received some uplifting news to start her senior year.
For one, she was named a commended student in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program for her performance on the PSAT/NMSQT.
Also, she soon will be able to get back into participating in gymnastics, dance and track and field.
Onken is the third Trinity Lutheran High School student in recent years to receive the commended student honor. Two years ago, her brother, Luke, and Ethan Neawedde were recognized for the accomplishment.
A letter of commendation from the school and the National Merit Scholarship Corp., which conducts the program, were presented to Onken and Principal Ben Stellwagen.
Onken is among nearly 34,000 commended students in the country. They placed among the top 50,000 scorers of more than 1.6 million students who entered the 2018 competition by taking the 2016 PSAT/NMSQT.
The National Merit Scholarship Program is based on junior performance on the PSAT/NMSQT and goes by the year they will graduate.
Onken’s score places her in the top 3 percent in the country.
She said it’s nice to be the second one in her family to achieve the honor.
“I remember (Luke) and Ethan both getting recognized at chapel (at school), and I asked him, ‘What is that for?’ and he explained it to me,” Onken said. “So when I got to PSAT, I was like, ‘Oh, it would be really cool to be like Luke and get the commended scholar, as well.'”
Stellwagen said it’s a significant achievement.
“I am extremely proud of Rachel. Obviously, she puts in the time and effort to prepare herself to do well,” he said. “Then just as a school, too, it does reflect that we’re able to provide an advanced enough curriculum to have our advanced students excel.”
Sophomores who attend accredited schools are required to take the PSAT/NMSQT. Stellwagen said freshmen are allowed to take it, and Trinity decided in recent years to have all juniors take it because it fits into the STAR curriculum.
STAR, which stands for skills, tutorials and resources, involves dividing up each class by grade level and once a week receiving targeted instruction on what’s appropriate for that grade.
For freshmen, it’s learning study, organizational, listening and communication skills as they transition to high school. For sophomores and juniors, it’s tutorials for test preparation, and juniors also get ready for college entrance exams. And for seniors, it’s resources, which involves college and scholarship applications and transitional material to help as they move on to college or a profession.
Onken said this was her second and final time taking the PSAT/NMSQT, which includes sections on reading, writing and language, math without a calculator and math with a calculator. Each one is timed, ranging from 25 to 60 minutes, and has nearly 20 to 50 questions apiece.
Students receive an evidence-based reading and writing score, a math score and a selection index score, which the National Merit Scholarship Corp. uses in its National Merit Scholarship Program. The selection index score is calculated by doubling the sum of the reading, writing and language and math test scores.
Onken said her selection index score was 212, which was just past the mark required to earn commended student honors.
She said two things helped her do well on the test.
“I took the practice test before this one, and I made sure I got lots of sleep before the test,” she said.
Onken said she has always been a good test-taker.
“I took the old SAT twice — as an eighth-grader and as a freshman — and I did decent on those, and I thought it would help maybe be easier in the future,” she said. “I don’t typically get nervous for these things.”
Plus, she said math and English are strong subjects for her.
“I had great teachers at Immanuel (Lutheran School), and I have great teachers here, so it really helps to learn the materials and prepare for these tests,” she said.
Onken said she also has taken the new SAT twice and recently took the ACT for the second time and is happy with her scores.
Now, she’s ready to figure out where she wants to go to college. She plans to study pharmaceutical science or chemistry.
Earning the commended student honor gives her a boost in making that decision.
“It has changed the way I’m seeing colleges because now, I can see I’m a part of only a certain number of people, so I’m thinking, ‘Well, maybe I can actually get into these higher colleges I want to get into,'” she said.